The hunt for Albertio

Kategorier: English-articles & NRKbeta

Earlier this year, NRKbeta told you the story of something looking a lot like a web scam scheme somebody was trying to lure us into: Fraud 2.0: Albertio wants to stick his straw in NRKbeta’s Google Juice.

Facsimile from Marcis Gasuns Google Plus Account. From left, Marcis Gasuns, Bryan Eisenberg

Someone calling themselves Albertio Ward wanted to translate one of our articles to Bulgarian for free. After having done so, he wished us to put up a link to his «translation». The scheme works approximately like this:

This is a Black Hat SEO trick – Black Hat, like the bad guys in western movies from the 50s, and SEO being Search Engine Optimisation, the art of making web content appear higher up in Google than it normally would.

Who’s behind all this?

Albertio was quite clearly not a real person himself. But there had to be somebody behind the correspondence. We got a lot closer to the person behind the operation during the summer, thanks to a whistleblowing Russian writing under an assumed name. On the way we learned a little more about spam, about Black Hat SEO and the shady business of trying to trick Google. This is the story.

A small apology to our Norwegian readers for writing this one in English. We’ve done so to make it easier for the people mentioned to take part and add nuances to the story, if they should feel like it. Please bear with us.

A Russian whistleblower

Early July, NRKbeta received this comment from «Peter Jackman» under the article about Albertio:

This is an SEO organization which promotes sites:
fatcow . com, webhostinggeeks . com, designcontest . com, pc . de, webhostinghub . com, webhostingwatch . com.

Main clients are fatcow, webhostinggeeks and webhostingwatch.

The way they promoted (and still are promoting) that sites was perfectly described by you.

More than a 40 people are involved in that business. Some of them are searching for appropriate articles, some of them are translating articles using google docs, some of them are posting the articles. They have nothing to do with White Hat SEO.

They have been working for a couple of years in such a way and, probably more than a thounsand authors were deceived by this organisation.

Wecantranslate – is how they are called, or, at least they are call themselves so. http: // wecantranslate . com/home – is the site.

And, sure, there might have been quality translations. Since we were based in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarussia and Georgia – we could make good translations into that languages.

The owner of this kind of business is Marcis Gasuns. He is located in Russia. E-mail is ▒▒▒▒▒▒▒@▒▒▒▒▒.▒▒▒.

Google+ profile is here – https: // plus . google . com/102146312395420304387/posts
Despite his SEO knowledge he’s not the person you may trust.

Right now he’s busy promoting his affiliate site – webhostingw dot com. As usual, machine translations are used. They are posted here – http://window . webhostingw . com/

That’s quite a lot of information. But as the comment contained unsubstantiated allegations towards a named person, I removed it temporarily, until I’d found out more.

«Peter Jackman»

In an earlier comment, Jackman had written: «Actually, i was working for that company. I can tell much more than you think since i was involved in it. I am from Ex-USSR and all of this business is based here. And, I am not Peter Jackman, as you can understand. I wish not to reveal my identity.»

I didn’t know who he was, or his motives for writing this. Still. What he said seemed consistent enough to warrant further investigation, so I took a closer look at the person he was pointing us to:

A twitter profile with name Marcis Gasuns, Twitter handle @gasyoun, Bio Born in Riga. Location Novosibirsk URL fatcow . com

Marcis Gasuns

There seemed to be a slight chance this was more than loose accusations; Marcis Gasuns lists fatcow . com as his web address in his Twitter bio, and a little over a week after the article was published, he tweeted to Norwegian SEO specialist @muppman – who just happened to be one of the sources in the Albertio article:

@gasyoun’s sudden interest July the 9th in a Norwegian SEO specialist more than 5000 kilometres away from Novosibirsk shortly after the article was published, coincided with the day Marcis Gasuns tried to connect with me via LinkedIn:

All this seemed to underpin that this gentleman might have some kind of interest in the Albertio project.

Hi Marcis

After a bit of thinking, on how to do this best, I decided I should pop him a mail:

Hi Marcis

A man who claims to have been affiliated with you writes the following in a comment on our site:
This is an SEO organization which promotes sites:
fatcow . com, webhostinggeeks . com, designcontest . com, pc . de, webhostinghub . com, webhostingwatch . com.

The comment is on this article:

Do you have any comments on this?

Anders Hofseth

Doctor Evil

Half an hour later, he answers me:

Marcis Gasuns
Jul 19

Hi Anders,

I’ll need a few days to explain why I’m not doctor evil, because I’m on a trip right now. Does it sounds reasonable? In the meantime I ask you not to publish https: // plus . google . com/▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒/posts comments from the fake-Peter Jackman. Being a SEO does not always mean you are gaming someone.


I guess this means he admits being the man I’m looking for. But that he’s got an explanation.

I decide to give him time.

Anders Hofseth
Jul 19

Hi Marcis.
Sure, I’m not in a great hurry. I can hold back the comment until next week. Looking forward to hearing from you.


He’s back promptly:

Marcis Gasuns
Jul 19

Great, sometimes it makes me mad when I have to argument why I’m not a weasel. 🙂

One week later

A week later, he answers me:

Marcis Gasuns
Jul 26

Hi Anders,

Listed facts don’t comply with our non-profit movement or me as a poliglot linguist (http://goo . gl/n7aro).
So no, I do not want to comment on the above cited pseudo-Peter ▒▒▒▒▒▒’s comment because it’s so «affiliated».
Our decentralised organization has nothing to do with no-color-whatsoever SEO practices. Are we violating any Google guidelines http://goo . gl/4kv3X?! I assure you that we are following the best practices. Some translations are better than the original articles, some are misserable. If we do our job well, small language digital corpora will spread, supported by links. If badly – we’re doomed.

P.S. The «affiliated» man under the fake name owns me $1,200. Proof link (http://goo . gl/▒▒▒▒▒▒, http://goo . gl/▒▒▒▒▒▒), sorry the correspondence with ▒▒▒▒▒▒ ▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒ (IP ▒▒.▒▒▒.▒.▒▒▒) is in Russian. I’ve sent him money in advance to buy a PC so he can work and make the living, but instead of doing copywriting he writes rubbish about people.

PhD, Marcis Gasuns,
Novosibirsk, Russia

His point being it seems (apart from trying to discredit Peter Jackman), that the work of the different translation operations has no connection to search engine optimisation, that he’s just a polyglot (meaning speaking several languages) linguist trying to make the world a better place.

Who is Marcis Gasuns

Well, if we study the profile Gasuns presents at Google+, one does get the impression that he’s a man of languages.

But how deep does it really go? When we look closer – at his Circle,

and when we see what his Picasa pictures look like, we find that Marcis is not only following people and businesses associated with Search Engine Optimisation. He’s also got an albumful of pictures from an SEO conference, including pictures of himself with some of the speakers; online marketing expert Bryan Eisenberg and Rand Fishkin, by many considered to be the world’s leading expert on SEO are two of the people he’s posing next to. We suppose this means that he might have just a little more interest in the SEO business than he says he has.

And if he’s not to keen to talk openly about it in connection with the «Translation for Education» operation, well – one could also be led to assume he’s not operating entirely on the good guy side.

Also, there’s more.

Digging deeper

In this digital world of ours, a lot of people have accounts everywhere, and if they’re professionals or semi-professionals, they usually share a bit about what they’re doing. Marcis Gasuns is no exception.

Sharing video

On his account on online video site Vimeo, he’s not only sharing screenshots from FatCow, home of the Translation for Education scam and video of SEO experts from when he was at SES NY 2010, the world’s largest conference on Search Engine Marketing, which should indicate he’s sufficiently involved in the SEO business to travel from Novosibirsk to New York to stay informed.

He’s also sharing a little tutorial called How to Comment on WordPress Blogs, where he in detail goes through how he goes about leaving spam comments for international calling cards, while pretending to comment on web design.

But it gets better.

Sharing slides

On his Slideshare account, where he in his bio claims to be working for EIG – Endurance International Group – which according to the Wikipedia article is the owner of FatCow and a string of other web hosting companies – he’s sharing a presentation he made in January 2011, called Localization Linkbuilding: Actionable Analytics, where he goes through a scheme similar to «Translation for Education».

He mentions rare languages like Amharic, Bushman and Nahuatl as possible translation languages, and have several examples of so called backlinks he’s got to sites he run, like FatCow, besides going through stategies for finding sites and pages that should be targeted.

Sharing success

If I do understand the presentation correctly,

he has a 14% success rate. That seems to be a very decent return on investment for this form of shooting in the dark.

Why this interest in small European countries?

At the end of his presentation, he links to an article which states:

The comparatively small amount of content and, consequently, competition for keywords in languages other than English means that you can get your localized foreign language sites to rank highly in search engines much more quickly than you can with English language websites.

Christian Arno at Search Engine Watch

This might further explain Albertio’s interest in getting his «Bulgarian» translation here at our modest Norwegian tech blog (which, though it is fairly small, is ranked at 7/10 – the same as Norway’s largest website And – maybe not all by coincidence – the Page Rank of FatCow.

Well, what’s his comment on all this?

I’ve told Marcis Gasuns I do not believe that his translation operations are done for the purpose he’s stated. I’ve said that the quality of the translations and the selection of material is so poor that it does not serve purposes aside from gaming the Google Page Rank of companies he’s doing business for, and that I do not believe his statement that his«decentralised organization has nothing to do with no-color-whatsoever SEO practices». And seeing his presentation and other material, I think he knows very well what he’s doing, and why.

NRKbeta has asked Marcis Gasuns to comment on the article, but he does not wish to do so at the time of publishing.

Last Minute Changes

After my contact with Mr. Gasuns on this article Friday, several pictures have been removed from his Picasa profile, incriminating videos have been removed from Vimeo, and his SlideShare bio has subtly shifted from SEO at EIG to CEO at GIE.

Further, the presentation Localization linkbuilding is now replaced by a more cryptic thing called Übersicht der spagyrischen Heilmittel nach Alexander von Bernus (even though the original name of the presentation has been kept). When you google Gasuns’ name today, you still find most of the old stuff in Google’s cache anyway.

NRKbeta has archived copies of most of the now removed material to document and verify our journalistic process. You’ll find the first article here: Fraud 2.0: Albertio wants to stick his straw in NRKbeta’s Google Juice.

9 kommentarer

    • Anders Hofseth (NRK) (svar til Lars Laading)

      Wow, litt av en historie. Føler meg en håndfull hattenumre mindre enn Stoll… Tok meg den frihet å legge inn en lenke i kommentaren din til Wikipedia-artikkelen. Fascinerende lesning.

  1. Dmitry Brant

    That’s funny! I was a victim of this scam just last week (from a different «person», but the same organization). I wrote an article about it myself, if you’re interested.

    It looks like you’ve done a lot more research into it than I have; well done! Now we just have to spread the word, so that the respectable websites who were fooled by this scan will remove the malicious links.

    Svar på denne kommentaren

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